Howie Roseman has had more time to prepare for the draft, scheduled for next week, than ever before. It has allowed for free April weekends for the Eagles' personnel staff, which previously spent the time between the league meetings and the draft in exhaustive preparation.
The draft, moved this year from late April to early May, begins Thursday, and it's different from most others in the general manager's tenure. Roseman is armed with only six picks - he averaged 10.25 during his four previous drafts - and the No. 22 selection in the first round is the latest he has picked since 2011.
When the Eagles selected fourth overall last season, Roseman went home the night before the draft comfortable with four players and knowing the Eagles would land one of them. (They wound up with tackle Lane Johnson.) Picking in the twenties, he faces more of an unknown.
"Right now, if you asked me, I feel the same way," Roseman said. "We have a group of guys, and I think we'll get one, but I've been wrong before."
Roseman must decide what to do at wide receiver, which is a need for the Eagles since the release of DeSean Jackson. The depth at receiver in this draft might be unprecedented. Roseman expects 10 to be drafted in the first two rounds, with other potential starters available later.
The Eagles are committed to taking the best available player, yet the best player in each round could be a wide receiver. So knowing which receiver to take and when will be a major point of emphasis. Roseman expects to draft at least one wideout.
"When we look at our board about how good the receivers are in this draft, I think there will be a point in this draft . . . that there's going to be a really talented receiver" available, Roseman said. "When you look back at the history of the draft, the wide receiver position always goes later to begin with. And now with the influx of the underclassmen of the wide receiver position, I think that's how it's going to turn out."
Roseman identified the other strong areas of the draft as offensive tackle and cornerback. The Eagles' biggest need is on defense, but they might not find what they're looking for in the first round, except at cornerback. Roseman pointed out that pass rushers often go earlier than anticipated, and the safeties in this draft class did not sound particularly appealing to the general manager.
"In terms of the safety class, I don't think it's a good group overall," Roseman said. "I think you're talking about a drop-off certainly when you get into [the later rounds]."
The Eagles tried to take care of their safety needs in free agency. They are especially high on Malcolm Jenkins and are hopeful that Earl Wolff continues to develop. At outside linebacker, the Eagles are intrigued by internal options, from roster holdover Trent Cole to 2012 practice squad performer Travis Long.
If the Eagles decide to trade up for an impact defensive player, NFL Network analyst Mike Mayock identified two potential options: UCLA outside linebacker Anthony Barr and Alabama safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix. Although the Eagles lack the assets of previous seasons, Roseman did not rule out trading up even if it means coming out of the draft with fewer players.
"We would not be concerned with that if we felt like the value of the player is right," Roseman said. "If we have a guy that's in the top five in our draft and he's falling? Would we look at that? No question."
This is the Eagles' second draft with coach Chip Kelly, who crisscrossed the country to visit college pro days. Kelly views college prospects on Saturday nights during the season, but he values going to campuses and seeing the players perform drills in person and speaking to a variety of sources - from coaches to trainers to others around the program.
The Eagles draft room includes a main table with Kelly, Roseman, owner Jeffrey Lurie, and vice president of player personnel Tom Gamble. A few other executives are at a back table, including the team's trainer, college scouting director, and pro personnel executive. One staff member places the cards on the board for each pick, and another handles trade calls. Scouts and assistant coaches come in and out of the room.
"I'm a big believer in calm decisions during calm times, and so we're not all of a sudden going, 'Man, we're jumping that guy,' " Roseman said. "All of that work has been done. It's almost like a play sheet during a game."